Manoj Bhargava, the majority owner of SI parent The Arena Group, in a 2023 NYSE Floor Talk interview. Manoj Bhargava, the majority owner of SI parent The Arena Group, in a 2023 NYSE Floor Talk interview. (New York Stock Exchange on YouTube.)

In the wake of the fallout from last week’s reports on seemingly-AI-generated content appearing on Sports Illustrated‘s website, the majority owner of SI parent company Arena Group is now getting involved. Manoj Bhargava, the owner of 5-Hour Energy Drink, bought a controlling stake in The Arena Group (which has the rights to publish SI under a long-term arrangement with SI owner Authentic Brands Group) earlier this year. As per Michael McCarthy and AJ Perez of Front Office Sports, Bhargava held quite the conference call with Arena Group staffers Wednesday:

Per that FOS report, this call also came amidst an Arena Group shakeup, which saw COO Andrew Kraft and president of media Rob Barrett exit. And Bhargava had quite the remarks there. Here are some of those:

”No one is important,” Bhargava told SI staffers, per one source on hand for the presentation. “I am not important. … The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.”

The meeting lasted more than 90 minutes, and Bhargava joked at one point, “Did anyone bring any 5-Hour [Energy drink]?”

Other highlights from Bhargava’s comments during the town hall:

A rant about recycling being “useless.”
He told employees to “stop doing dumb stuff.”
He declared, seemingly in a reference to busy work, that “PowerPoints are illegal.”

It’s hard to take too much specific away there, but it’s clear Bhargava isn’t happy with how things are going at SI. And one of the big things there is the AI saga, which at saw a bombshell Futurism report on AI-generated content on SI’s website. After that, there was a tepid eventual response from Arena Group  claiming the “articles in question were product reviews and were licensed content from an external, third-party company” and “were written and edited by humans” who “had writers use a pen or pseudo name in certain articles to protect author privacy.”

But SI staff responded with a strongly-critical statement, and the world in general has been mocking the current state of the publication. And now we’re seeing Bhargava meeting with staff, and to tangible changes atop Arena Group.

It will be interesting to see if Bhargava takes more of an active role with SI and Arena Group’s publications in general going forward. For the record, Arena Group told FOS in a statement that “Today, Manoj conducted a virtual town hall and spoke with the staff of The Arena Group, and took questions. Also today, some adjustments to the business have been made to improve efficiency and revenue, and also some changes to senior management have been made.”

Bhargava’s Simplify Inventions took a stake of around 65 percent in Arena Group in August in exchange for $50 million and a five-year, $65-million advertising commitment. That seemingly puts the company on a little firmer financial footing than they’ve been at times in the past. To date, there haven’t been a lot of discussions around him looking to make major changes. But this AI saga certainly could change that. And it’s definitely notable to see Bhargava personally meeting with Arena Group and SI staffers after this.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.